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Shakespeare Sonnet 13 Analysis

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

This edition of Shakespeare's Love Sonnets takes a look at Sonnet 13. This analysis comes with a breakdown of the poem's structure and overall meaning.

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    First, read the sonnet:

    O, that you were yourself! but, love, you are
    No longer yours than you yourself here live:
    Against this coming end you should prepare,
    And your sweet semblance to some other give.
    So should that beauty which you hold in lease
    Find no determination: then you were
    Yourself again after yourself's decease,
    When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.
    Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,
    Which husbandry in honour might uphold
    Against the stormy gusts of winter's day
    And barren rage of death's eternal cold?
    O, none but unthrifts! Dear my love, you know
    You had a father: let your son say so.

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    Shakespeare Sonnet 13 Analysis

    First Folio 

    Shakespeare Love Sonnets include Sonnet 18, Sonnet 130, and many more. This section is just 13.

    The repetition of "you" in the poem shines the spotlight on the person to whom the poem's speaker is speaking. It appears to be a chide at selfishness and what better way to appeal to a selfish person's interest than by the constant repetition of "you."

    1. The poem is directed toward an individual who refuses to have children. Although we are not told why, it's possible that the underlying reason for not having offspring is selfishness.
    2. The poem deals with immortality, obtained through procreation. The love discussed is father-son love.
    3. The first four lines deal with the inevitability of death. The poem's speaker reminds the hearer that because everyone dies "you are / No longer yours than you yourself here lives," meaning once you die you no longer exist and all that care you put in for yourself will be for nought.
    4. "Your sweet semblance to some other give" in line 4 sure sounds like a pun--semblance meaning like in appearance--and I suppose giving one your "sweet semblance" could refer to the process and substance necessary for conception.
    5. The double meaning continues (I've looked at other Shakespeare Sonnet 13 analyses and they don't tackle the sexually connotative language. They can't handle it. I can.) in line 5 with "that beauty which you hold in lease" and "your sweet issue." The physical beauty that is regenerated through procreation and the substance which if let loose makes procreation possible are two likely meanings.
    6. The point of lines 5-8 is that having an heir allows one to live after death.
    7. Lines 9-12 express shock an near anger (notice the quickening rhythm as well) that any person would allow his line to end when a little husbandry would prevent it.
    8. Husbandry in line 9 is an interesting choice of words. It's a farming metaphor. It means the cultivation of crops (seeds) or the breeding of animals.
    9. The final couplet contains the speaker's final plea that the listener's father was unselfish enough to have a son, then why not you?
    10. The poem can also be interpreted on a Biblical level. Jesus teaches, "he that loses his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 10:39). The act of raising children involves giving entirely of oneself; therefore, procreating and raising a child causes one to lose himself in service, the end result being life after death through offspring.

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    For Further Reading

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